'The Clone Wars' Explained: Darth Maul is Right in 'The Phantom Apprentice'

The Sith Lord tells Ahsoka Tano what she already knows, the Jedi are doomed, and their war is a joke.

Darth Maul Screenshot
Lucasfilm

Start printing up the bumper stickers: #DarthMaulWasRight. The pathetic wretch who was split in two by Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of The Phantom Menace, cast aside by his master for the absurdly monikered Count Dooku, and cursed with visions of an all-ruling Empire in no need of his talents, is screaming in pain with every action he makes. He is in a desperate need to be heard. He wants to let it all out for the Jedi who propelled him down this path, but he must settle for the child who stumbled her way to Mandalore instead.

Ahsoka Tano sees the strings controlling The Clone Wars, but she’s still straining to focus on the puppet master. Lord Maul has the answers. He was on the ground floor as Darth Sidious was cooking up his plan. Maul’s only delight these days is taking pleasure in the knowledge that the wicked world that barely blinked when he was saddled with robotic legs is about to experience the same agony he went through and by the same demon.

This week’s episode, titled “The Phantom Apprentice,” takes place shortly after the opening scene of Revenge of the Sith. As a hologram Kenobi explains it, Count Dooku just lost his head by the blade of Anakin Skywalker, and Chancellor Palpatine has taken the first steps in implementing his dictatorship over the Republic. The Jedi Council has ordered Anakin Skywalker to spy upon the Chancellor, as they are only now getting hip to the politician’s sinister motivations.

Too little, too late.

As Maul tells Tano at the midway point of the episode, the Republic has already fallen. They just can’t see it yet. Jedi notions of justice are a joke. They’ve been blind to Sidious machinations for a decade. They deserve what’s coming to them (Order 66).

While Tano was not the person Maul’s Mandalorian civil war was meant to attract, he’s thankful for the soldier who found her way to his throne room. Forcefully yanking her history from the mind of a captured clone trooper, Maul recognizes a kindred spirit in Tano. They were both tools for greater power.

“You were motivated to leave by the hypocrisy of the Jedi council,” says Maul. In many ways, Tano is ahead of where he was when he tumbled into the pits of Naboo. He needed to be spurned to have his eyes opened. Tano is a self-starter. Together, they would make deadly allies against Sidious.

Tano faces the same scenario Luke Skywalker will encounter in Return of the Jedi. Join the Dark Side to defeat the Dark Side. Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. Tano considers their pairing for a moment, but when Maul reveals his premonition of Anakin Skywalker reigning over the galaxy with Sidious by his side, the former pupil cannot fathom such an appalling nightmare. This is where Tano’s lack of vision fails her.

Like Kenobi, Yoda, Mace Windu, and the rest of the Jedi, she cannot imagine her friend succumbing to hatred. Her defect is Anakin, her “Sky Guy.” If for one second she believed her former master to be capable of cutting down younglings, the lives of trillions would have gone in an astonishingly different manner. While she never could be buddies with Maul, the two of them taking on Sidious and Skywalker could have changed the fate of the Galaxy.

Or not.

Tano and Maul would be just as ineffectual as Obi-Wan Kenobi will be on Mustafar. Stopping or killing Skywalker at this point is fruitless. Sidious is the monster needing squashing. Maul and Tano would never have agreed on who to go after first. Maul’s rage will forever be directed at Sidious. Tano’s hurt will forever be directed at Skywalker. Maul and Tano are oil and vinegar. They’ll never congeal.

As Luke will reject Vader decades later, Tano cannot compromise her ideals to achieve a quick response. She spurns Maul. Disappointed, he turns to his lightsaber to decide the argument. While Mandalore roars with the sounds of war, Tano and Maul duel atop towering city structures.

Maul awaits a vessel to take him off-world. He’s already instructed his gangsters (including a silent Dryden Vos from Solo: A Star Wars Story) to retreat into hiding. He plans to continue to operate in the shadows while Sidious commands his Empire. The hope of revenge on the Emperor and Kenobi is the only thing getting him out of bed each morning. He’ll settle for a secret fiefdom until the right time to strike reveals itself.

The eager beaver will have to wait a little longer. Maul underestimates Tano in their duel. She gets the upper hand, slicing the precarious beam they were battling on with his own saber, knocking him off balance, and sending him to his splattery death on the city streets below. Except Tano is not a murderer. With the Force, she holds Maul in mid-plummet and awaits the clone gunships to come fetch his pathetic ass.

As the clones wrangle his wriggly body, Maul wails in a tantrum, “You’re all going to burn! We’re all going to die! You don’t know what you’re doing!” He’s right. The galaxy’s darkest days are in its future, and a handful of humans could have prevented the misery if they had not been clouded by their ego.

There are two episodes left. Where does The Clone Wars go from here? Further conversation between Tano and Maul could yield advantage against Sidious, but the greatest weapon of this series is the already set future of Revenge of the Sith. At this point in the timeline, Anakin is with Sidious, and Kenobi is on Utapau clashing with General Grievous.

Order 66 will flip next week. Kenobi will barely escape from the turncoat clones on Utapau, and Tano will have her conversations with Maul cut short by the betrayal as well. There is no victory in The Clone Wars. The closest we’ll come to one is seeing Tano take her first steps into the Rebellion that will eventually topple the Empire…not in Return of the Jedi, but in The Rise of Skywalker.

How many lives could have been spared between Attack of the Clones and Rey Skywalker obliterating Darth Sidious? Trillions, not billions. What The Clone Wars and Rebels do is deny their audience from ever blissfully cheering during the credits of a Star Wars movie ever again. What we see in the films are heroes. What we see in the cartoons are failures. All war is ugly, even your previous Star Wars.

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.